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Indicted Sudanese president seeks help from rivals
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    KHARTOUM, Sudan — Rivals of Sudan’s president are pressing him to make concessions at home and abroad in a bid to ward off international charges he ordered genocide in Darfur, a case they fear could wreck peace efforts and even plunge the country into civil war.
    Many Sudanese worry a decision by the International Criminal Court to take the dramatic step of issuing an arrest warrant for Omar al-Bashir could prompt a government backlash that would escalate violence in the western Darfur region and wreck the shaky peace between north and south Sudan.
    But in return for taking his side, al-Bashir’s opponents want him to make changes.
    The strongest political force pushing al-Bashir for flexibility is the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, the former southern rebel group that is now al-Bashir’s wary partner in a unity government formed under a fragile 2005 peace deal.
    It wants al-Bashir to make concessions for peace in Darfur and give it a role in negotiating there, citing the south’s ties to Darfur rebels.
    The group also wants him to cooperate some with the International Criminal Court, with some members calling for him to hand over two top Sudanese figures charged last year, something they think may will persuade the U.N. Security Council to suspend the president’s July 14 indictment.
    And the southerners want to ensure al-Bashir sticks to promises made in the peace deal that ended decades of war between north and south Sudan. In particular, elections are to be held next year that southerners hope will win them a greater say in power and increase democracy.
    ‘‘I think this ICC (indictment) is providing us more opportunities’’ for the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement and al-Bashir to work together, Luka Biong, a top SPLM official, told The Associated Press.
    In a sign of its new boldness, the southern group announced days after the indictment that its leader, Salva Kiir, currently vice president in the unity government, would run for president next year.
    The idea of a president from the mainly Christian and animist south would be revolutionary in a country historically dominated by Arabized Muslim northerners. Indeed, the announcement angered some hard-liners in the north, who accuse southerners of trying to break away. But the southern group said a Kiir candidacy would prove it wants a unified Sudan.
    Still, even though the president has sought his foes’ support, concessions rarely come easily from al-Bashir, long worried over any sign of weakness in his sharply divided country.
    He came to power in a 1989 military coup, and his regime has been based on support from the military, northern tribal leaders and a ruling party with an Islamic fundamentalist ideology. Hard-liners in the regime oppose concessions in Darfur or steps that could lead to the south’s secession.
    Al-Bashir’s top fear now is that an arrest warrant would encourage opponents or even members of his ruling party to attempt a coup, believing that would have international support, said Alex de Waal, a Sudan expert at the New York-based Social Science Research Council.
    Prosecutors at the International Criminal Court accuse al-Bashir of carrying out genocide in Darfur, where up to 300,000 people have been killed and more than 2.5 million chased from their homes in fighting since early 2003.
    Ethnic African groups in Darfur rebelled against al-Bashir’s government, accusing it of discriminating in favor of Sudan’s Arabized tribes, and his regime is accused of unleashing Arab militias known as janjaweed that are blamed for atrocities against civilians.
    Al-Bashir has taken a tough line against the indictment, saying Sudan does not recognize the court in The Hague, Netherlands, and will never cooperate with it.
    But he has given new signs of willingness to make peace in Darfur and is promising to hold the promised national elections on time.
    Soon after the indictment, al-Bashir made a high-profile visit to Darfur, meeting with peacekeepers and promising greater economic development in the region.
    The president also created a panel to draw up a peace plan for Darfur, to be headed by one of his top opponents, Sadiq al-Mahdi, the former prime minister ousted by al-Bashir’s coup and the head of the northern opposition Umma Party.
    Umma and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement have urged the U.N. Security Council to suspend the prosecution of al-Bashir for 12 months, a demand also being pushed by the Arab League and the African Union.
    They fear they have as much to lose as al-Bashir from the indictment.
    Despite his longtime opposition to al-Bashir, al-Mahdi warns of disaster if the court presses ahead.
    Prosecution ‘‘will mean criminalizing the regime, and the armed forces,’’ he said in a recent lecture. ‘‘This means they will defend themselves. It will create animosity with a mighty power.’’

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